Ann Romney did great, but won't move needle

Story highlights

  • Stephen Hess: Ann Romney did great job with speech; should help with Mitt's "likability"
  • He says conventions mainly for the political class; most voters won't have watched
  • He says wives can be a force, not a factor; voters ultimately vote what's important to them
  • Hess: Political process is a show; whoever persuades voters on jobs issue will win

Ann Romney was magnificent last night addressing the Republican convention. She did everything that party strategists could have desired, presenting herself as an articulate and passionate advocate for her husband, who should now seem more "likeable" than he did before her speech.

Having once ghost-written words for men who ran for president (Eisenhower, Nixon, and Ford), I admired the craftsmanship: "His name is Mitt Romney, and you really should get to know him." She proved herself a great salesperson. Yet he -- not she -- has the name on the November ballot for president of the United States. Similarly, we can admire Michelle Obama, but we will vote for or against her husband.

As for Mrs. Romney's reach: This was a convention speech, and conventions stopped being interesting to other than the political class when their outcomes stopped being surprising. Conventions attract the party's faithful. In this election, the polls tell us that there are very few undecided voters. The vast majority of her listeners have already made up their minds.

Stephen Hess

It was different before. My first conventions were in 1952 in Chicago, where both the Republicans and Democrats were meeting. I was a college student working there. When we entered the hall on Day One, we did not know who would be nominated on Day Three.

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That was the last time this happened in American political history. The candidates: Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson. Not every home had a TV set, but every TV set stayed on far into the night. My hunch is that this couldn't be claimed last night. When a long line of speakers preceded Mrs. Romney, my wife and I started channel-surfing. The convention had a lot of competition.

Candidates' wives have been a force -- not a factor -- since Lady Bird Johnson was given her own campaign bus and agenda in 1964. It would have been unseemly to have asked Mamie Eisenhower to take to the road or Harry Truman's Bess before her.

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    Pat Nixon, a charming presence, smiled, laughed at the same joke that Dick told in every speech, and otherwise remained silent. Hillary Clinton was briefly a factor in 1992 when Bill announced, "Buy one, get one free." The suggestion was instantly shot down, and never resurrected.

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    The genius of the American electorate is in how voters ultimately sort out what is necessary to make a decision, and what is not, discarding the detritus of evening news sound bites, and rhetoric regurgitated on late night panels during the country's endless process of choosing a president. Ronald Reagan was not elected because of his memorable one-liners. "There you go, again." Nor was Michael Dukakis defeated because he looked silly riding around in a tank.

    It's fun to compare the Romneys' touching kiss last night to Al and Tipper's back-bender at the 2000 Democratic convention. These are all part of the show. Some people are well paid to produce the ads and provide the other services for the show. Others are paid to report them. Many enjoy what a newspaper columnist of my youth called "the great game of politics." Still, after a half century of observing American voters, I find it uncanny how they always gravitate to what's the most important to them.

    Which brings us to what the 2012 election is all about. Jobs. Jobs. Jobs. How we feel in our gut about which candidate is more likely to put Americans back to work and revive the economy.

    There is usually a slight upward bump in the polls after a convention. But it soon settles back down. The only events -- other than what pundits call "unanticipated consequences" such as a homeland terrorist attack -- that could influence the outcome will be the debates where the candidates directly challenge each other.

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    If Mitt Romney wins, a majority prefer his economic message. If Mitt Romney loses, he will still know that no other candidate's wife ever worked so hard to explain her husband to the American people.

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